Entering a new year with what ifs– A 2019 Message To PH Leadership. Reject Ketuanan Politics


December 27, 2018

Entering a new year with what ifs– A Message To PH Leadership.Reject Ketuanan Politics

Leadership at its most fundamental is about moving people in the right direction – usually through changing their thinking and actions. It’s about empowering the people to move forward together towards a shared goal of improving the human condition.

In South Africa, it’s known as ubuntu – “the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others,” Mandela said.

An ancient word of the Bantu peoples in South Africa, ubuntu essentially means “’I am what I am because of who we all are”. –Eric Loo

Leadership at its most fundamental is about moving people in the right direction – usually through changing their thinking and actions. It’s about empowering the people to move forward together towards a shared goal of improving the human condition.

In South Africa, it’s known as ubuntu – “the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others,” Mandela said.

An ancient word of the Bantu peoples in South Africa, ubuntu essentially means “’I am what I am because of who we all are”.

Ubuntu manifests itself in our individual actions, in our family, in society, and on a larger scale in our politics. When we work together in the ubuntu spirit to oil the squeaky wheels of reforms and keep it turning, it will eventually lead to a transformation of cultures and mindsets.–Eric Loo

COMMENT | Madiba’s Way – Lessons on Life is worth a repeat reading. The book describes how former South African president Nelson Mandela, as a young boy, used to herd the village cattle with his friends in the afternoon.

“You know, when you want to get the cattle to move in a certain direction, you stand at the back with a stick,” he said.

“And then you get a few of the cleverer cattle to go to the front and move in the direction that you want them to go.

“The rest of the cattle follow the few more energetic cattle in the front, but you are really guiding them from the back. That is how a leader should do his work.”

As we start the New Year with a new government grappling with the old issues of communal politics and party factionalism, let us reflect on Mandela’s pragmatic leadership in apartheid South Africa, why the answer to complex questions is not always either-or but often the inclusive both, and the ideals that a leader is prepared to die for.

Leadership at its most fundamental is about moving people in the right direction – usually through changing their thinking and actions. It’s about empowering the people to move forward together towards a shared goal of improving the human condition.

In South Africa, it’s known as ubuntu – “the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others; that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others,” Mandela said.

An ancient word of the Bantu peoples in South Africa, ubuntu essentially means “’I am what I am because of who we all are”.

Ubuntu manifests itself in our individual actions, in our family, in society, and on a larger scale in our politics. When we work together in the ubuntu spirit to oil the squeaky wheels of reforms and keep it turning, it will eventually lead to a transformation of cultures and mindsets.

Here, I’m reminded of the Group of 25, a congregation of Malay public intellectuals who came out to strongly reject Islamic extremism and “supremacist NGOs” that “have led to the deterioration of race relations, eroded citizens’ sense of safety and protection under the rule of law and undermined stability”.

But since its formation in December 2014, not much else is known about the G25 or how the progressive Malay intelligentsia could have significantly influenced the tone and contents of the national conversation. Which leads me to wonder about the what ifs as we enter the New Year.

What if the G25 had sustained its intellectual momentum and prompted the emergence of other progressive bumiputera think tanks?

Would it have fostered a gradual transformation of mindsets and rethinking of ketuanan politics among the Malays?

Would we see less factional politics in the Harapan cabinet and more concerted efforts in meeting its election promises of fundamental reforms?

What if Mahathir were to step aside over the next year or so and guide a younger leader ‘from the back’ the Mandela way? Would the leadership transfer see us move forward to a Malaysia Baru, away from the old politics of special rights and privileges? Maybe not.

What if the stranglehold of Ketuanan politics on the Malay mindset were to regress Pakatan Harapan to the vision and values, policies and propaganda, character and convictions of the old UMNO-led BN?

The situation is certainly fluid. As we enter another year of political uncertainties and factionalism, let not the cliched messages by our leaders be mere rhetoric.

Let us ensure that their pedestrian words of hope are matched by their audacious deeds over the next four years or so.

Here, I’m reminded of the “audacity of hope” that President Barack Obama invoked often in his speeches.

Writing in The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2006, page 63), he said: “Sometimes we need both cultural transformation and government action – a change in values and a change in policy – to promote the kind of society we want … I believe in the power of culture to determine both individual success and social cohesion … we ignore cultural factors at our peril.”

May the 20-something age voters with their ideals, particularly from the Malay heartland, foster a new progressive language that can shift the bumiputera-or-non-bumiputera mentality to an inclusive mindset, akin Malaysian ubuntu that channel our energy into overcoming impossibilities and fulfilling potentials rather than continuing to harp on special privileges and rights to move ahead.

As we enter the New Year, may the polity awaken the ubuntu spirit here to replenish our hope for improved living conditions, equitable opportunities for all, and institutional reforms under Pakatan Harapan, which the rakyat gave the mandate to govern for the next four years or so, but which they can easily take back at the GE-15 if the new government morphs into another UMNO-BN outfit.


ERIC LOO is a senior fellow (journalism) at the School of the Arts, English & Media, Faculty of Law Humanities & Arts, University of Wollongong. He is also the founding editor of Asia Pacific Media Educator.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

 

 

 

 

Fear and Manipulation of the Malay mind


December 11 ,2018

Fear and Manipulation of the Malay mind

by Mariam Mokhtar

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Image result for icerd malaysia

Some people claim that the winners in the anti-ICERD rally were the conservative Malay-Muslims, and the losers Pakatan Harapan (PH) and to a lesser extent UMNO.

I beg to differ.

The real winners are the bullies and racists who threaten violence simply to get their way. Ketuanan Melayu or Malay supremacy tactics were paramount at the rally, with displays of silat groups and banners reminding everyone that Malaysia belongs to the Malays.

Prayers at the rally for the destruction of the PH administration were childish and showed that these bullies lacked creativity and brains. If their taunts and threats fail, God’s name is invoked to perpetuate a culture of fear.

The true losers are Malaysians, particularly the Malays. Here was a golden opportunity for Malaysians to rebuild the nation as a united people, through meritocracy. But fear triumphed.

Malaysians are now forced to play second fiddle to a handful of insecure Malay-Muslims who cannot grow up and cannot tolerate others being their equals. These insecure, belligerent people are determined that Malaysia should live in a toxic atmosphere. Think of the jealous boyfriend or husband who says, “If I can’t have you, no one else can.”

If these insecure people cared to read history, they would find that the foundation of Malaya/Malaysia was built on the blood, sweat and tears of all races. PAS leader Hadi Awang said non-Malays should be grateful that the Malays allow them to live in Malaysia. But he is misinformed. The original settlers of both East and West Malaysia were the Orang Asli – and Malay-Muslims repay their generosity by trampling on their rights.

Bullies and racists may have triumphed this time, but the Malays should heed the hidden messages from the anti-ICERD rally.

The rally served only to distract Malaysians, especially the Malays. Over the past few weeks, several Malay leaders were arrested and charged with money laundering, abuse of power, and stealing from the people. The rally allowed them a brief respite where they tried to be heroes once again.

Individuals such as former Prime Minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor may have felt like they regained their relevance, if only for an afternoon. They needed to remind the Malays that they champion their rights. The rally gave them ample opportunity to garner moral support from their sympathisers.

Interviews with people who attended the rally showed that some had no clue what ICERD means while others said the gathering was a relief from their day-to-day routines. The coach was free. They were allegedly given a small allowance, but it was still money in their hands. They were given free food and a chance to tell the folk in their villages that they had visited Kuala Lumpur.

The Malays in Malaysia are the poor relations of their cousins overseas. The Malays who have left Malaysia are confident and successful; they do not need crutches to survive. In the days before the ICERD issue, I met many middle-class and wealthy Malays who denounced the treaty as they believed ratifying it would mean the Malays losing their right to education. Have they been to schools where the dropout rate of Malays is high? Have they asked how the children perform at some Felda schools?

One professional Malay living and working in Malaysia claimed the special privileges of the Malays would be lost and Islam would be phased out if the ICERD were to be ratified. This person is perhaps oblivious to the fact that Malays who are spoon-fed become lazy and demotivated. Malays do not enjoy special privileges or a special position. There is nothing special about having a millstone around one’s neck.

A Malay engineer visited Dataran Merdeka in the early hours of the morning, before the rally started, to take a selfie. He disagreed with ICERD because he enjoys an Ali Baba work relationship. Others see him as a successful engineer, but would he agree to meritocracy and equality in the workplace?

After PH won GE-14, Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad stood by his decision of Tommy Thomas as the Attorney-General. He was equally adamant that Lim Guan Eng should be the finance minister, yet when Malay extremists threatened to wreak havoc, he faltered. Why? Was he reverting to his Umno heredity or was this a politically expedient move?

PH carried the hopes and ideals of Malaysia Baru, but when it came to ICERD, it failed the people.

Why aren’t the Malays informed that ICERD is not the end of their little world? ICERD would have been the key to a more exciting future in which they would continue to play a positive role alongside other Malaysians. And their success would have been achieved under their own steam, through their brilliance and hard work.

 The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 
 
 

The dangers of feudalism in Malaysian society


December 7,2018

The dangers of feudalism in Malaysian society

 

Image result for dr syed hussein alatas--"Intellectuals in Developing Societies”.
 

We Malaysians are so used to feudalism. The culture of patronage and neo-feudalism is firmly entrenched in the 21st century Malaysian mindset. A feeding tube, through which “bebalisma” trickles, regularly nourishes this culture.

Bebalisma is a concept encompassing the notions of foolishness, idiocy, brainlessness, irresponsibility, unintelligence and half-wittedness. The late Syed Hussein Alatas, lexiconnoisseur par excellence, devoted an entire chapter to bebalisma (Chapter 3) in his masterpiece, “Intellectuals in Developing Societies”.

Image result for dr syed hussein alatas--"Intellectuals in Developing Societies”.

A Corrupt and Disgraced feudal  Malay Politician

The development of Malaysia’s post-colonial politics has been chequered by these notions. Our political history exposes an intellectual development that has gone awry. We can blame none other than our enduring culture of patronage and neo-feudalism. It continues to be the assembly line in which bebalisma is efficiently manufactured, packaged and recycled for eager market consumption. Post-May 9 political transformations have not been spared. I take note of a few developments post-GE14 to demonstrate that feudalism is very much alive despite prevailing anti-corruption, anti-racist and anti-bigotry sentiments that brought the Barisan Nasional administration to its knees.

In October, the central leadership of DAP rightfully called for the prohibition of elected representatives and councillors from accepting titles and awards while still in active political service. The Yang di-Pertuan Agong and state rulers were informed of DAP’s decision that titles and awards should be accepted only after the awardees have proven themselves in active service with positive results.

Awards during service is unjustified and leads to complacency. Given the feudal mentality of Malaysian society, a Datuk, Datuk Seri, Tan Sri or Tun has the upper hand in many aspects of governance including access to corrupt practices. We have seen in the previous administration how this abuse gained momentum, and the attention it was given by the media. For instance, in 2017 a series of print and online newspapers carried stories of “Datuks breaking the law”. One newspaper even suggested that at the rate so many Datuks and Datuk Seris are getting into trouble, “the Prison Department might have to build a new wing just to house these VIPs”. The editor of that newspaper had a welcoming tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. However, such humour is premised on acceptable norms but unacceptable cultural values.

Datuks and Tan Sris are VIPs, but whether they are given preferential treatment or not as criminals should not be open to debate. I would like to see more of our media focusing on the phenomenon that our feudal past should stay in the past. Furthermore, the donning of the notorious “orange lock-up” attire is befitting for all criminals, irrespective of whether they were former leaders in government. A criminal is a criminal. Society was cheated, individuals were hurt, citizens’ rights were looted. A title should not have the power to minimise such violations of societal values.

The general public and the ruling elite must change the prevailing perception of what it means to be respected in society. Feudal notions of respect are superficial and empty. An individual earns respect based on services rendered, not on how many lines your name is.

These services have to benefit a majority rather than a select minority with vested interests. The feudal attitude that is so prevalent in Malaysia has resulted in what Dr. Mahathir Mohamad has bemoaned for a long time, more so since he took office in May this year. The sense of shame among Malaysians is at an all-time low.

But how can one feel ashamed of being corrupt or committing academic fraud if punishment is going to be only skin-deep? Feudalism dictates leniency. Since the release of the National Unity Consultative Council blueprint in October this year, there has been a renewed urgency to tackle racial and religious tensions. Last week’s disturbing incident in Seafield, USJ 25 (Sri Maha Mariamman temple), though, tells me more about the misperception of values as opposed to politicking based on race and religion. Let me explain.

Six civilians were injured, including a policeman and a firefighter. The latter caught the media’s attention as his injuries were critical, apart from him being Malay. What caught my attention though were the appeals made by readers in the comment sections of many online media portals. Many called for an end to senseless bickering by politicians, and an end to politicising race and religion by the opposition. Some made visceral attacks targeted at Malays, while others from various races appealed for normality. One non-Malay reader commented that the Malays are a peace-loving, kind, polite and “soft” people, implying that the temple fracas had nothing to do with race or religion.

I agree, but I also worry that these positive Malay traits are fodder for the perpetuation of a feudal mindset in our society. Manipulators will certainly take advantage of such noble characteristics to claim subservience from the hinterland. Rural folk revere their leaders, especially those with titles. They are regarded as orang besar. The reality is that most rural Malaysians have blind loyalty for their titled heroes. Ongoing support for the likes of our previous leaders and their respective parties is a strong case in point. However, the values of being a kind, polite and “soft” people must be divorced from the backward feudal ideology that has been etched into the Malaysian mindset. The only way we can evolve from this feudal pit of inequality is through education.

Our schools should continue teaching universal moral values. Religious education should be separate from our national education curriculum. More time and resources should be devoted to the teaching of the negative aspects of feudalism and its detrimental effect on the social contract.

Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s call to include the 1MDB scandal in Malaysian history is welcomed. However, if this is not deeply thought through, young minds will fail to see a connection between feudal patronage and corruption. After all, the 1MDB scandal was engineered by many orang besar. Similarly, Malaysians are taught in school to be polite from young, but they should also be taught that stating the honorific Datuk or Tan Sri many times in a single sentence when addressing an orang besar is unnecessary. It does not make the conversation more polite or morally elevated. All it does is prolong an irrational hierarchy in social interaction.

Feudalism being what it is – reverence of a leader, a personality rather than adherence to an ideology – opens society to blatant manipulation. Citizens’ representatives should also be given the choice of whether to accept an honorific or not, without any character assassination should he/she refuse it. In our culture, it is believed that not accepting such awards would be an insult to the Agong or the rulers. On the contrary, I see such a refusal as humble, and an example of a dedicated and selfless “servant” of society. These values should be revered. Such an act of refusal demonstrates great integrity and decency. A feudal mind, however, would think otherwise. A feudal mind would value the financial perks and parking in a no-parking zone.

The overwhelming feeling of privilege and self-deservedness among Malaysians is staggering. For instance, in the world of academia, the highest award given is Emeritus. In Malaysia, we also have Profesor Ulung and Profesor DiRaja, both of which do not make any sense in the global scholarly arena.

On an international level, a professor has reached the highest level of scholarly achievement in a particular academic field based on the decades he or she has devoted to teaching, research and publishing. Recognition of profound academic achievement is also given if students of such professors have achieved their own pristine level of scholarship. Both student and mentor are highly regarded, irrespective of who has been awarded the honorific.

Also, merely the quantity of publications should not be the litmus test of success or failure in the academia. Internationally, academics are given high recognition for quality publications – articles and books that offer cutting-edge discoveries, new theories and creative interpretations that can potentially improve the way we live. An academic could write only a single magnus opus throughout his or her career, and yet go down in history as a legendary scholar and a great mind.

The award of Professor Emeritus should not be dished out irresponsibly. At the monthly staff assembly in the Prime Minister’s Department earlier this week, Dr.Mahathir reminded the government and members of the administration that the power bestowed on them means that they should feel great responsibility to avoid self-benefit and self-interest. Instead, “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Chapter 4 of Alatas’ “Intellectuals in Developing Societies” is entitled “The Fools in Developing Societies”. A serious expose is presented on a somewhat “foolish” topic. The state of being a fool in society is prolonged by titled individuals. These decorated individuals come a dime a dozen. If the deserving are honoured, there would be fewer fools in society. If we learn to appreciate the value of excellence and hard work, we would create a society that strives for such an achievement. In the process the level of competency in all aspects of society will be raised.

In the current Malaysian context, H.G Wells’ “martian red weed” (in “The War of the Worlds”) represents how bebalisma has encroached into every nook and cranny of our lives. It is proving to be a herculean task to re-programme such a mindset.

Many in the top political intelligentsia, the business community and society in general seem oblivious to the “invisible hand” of feudalism. We complain a lot about corruption, racism, bigotry, poor quality of education, the increase in consumer prices, high road accident rates, lack of academic freedom, etc. I hope we will continue to find solutions to these serious problems by invoking a more anti-feudalism, anti-bebalisma narrative.

Thankfully there are segments of Malaysian society which have consciously rejected this feudal hierarchy of “idol worship”. However, our education system must become more involved as the young need to be taught that feudalism is not acceptable just because it is part of our tradition.

* The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

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Guna’s Take on the Politics of ICERD and Harapan’s Volte-Face


November 27, 2018

Guna’s Take on the Politics of ICERD and Harapan’s Volte-Face

https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/453556

QUESTION TIME | If we thought that UMNO-style gangster politics is dead and gone with New Malaysia, we have been very sadly mistaken as the recent issue over the ratification of the International Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) shows.

Somehow or other, the ratification of this convention has been taken to be a major attack on the special privileges of bumiputeras, including Malays, resulting in a cacophony of protests by UMNO and PAS, which were rather badly handled by the Harapan government.

It is no such thing.  There are enough safeguards and provisions in the IICERD for the special privileges of bumiputeras to continue and there are countries such as the US which ratified the treaty, saying its own constitution provides for those rights, and if there is any problem, then its constitution will stand supreme against ICERD.

Despite what Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said about having to amend the constitution, which would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament, to ratify Icerd, most expert legal opinion is that there is no such necessity. In fact, Mahathir had said in September at the UN General Assembly that Malaysia would ratify six UN conventions, which includes Icerd.

The about-turn that Harapan made over Icerd is substantive for one very important reason: it has basically submitted to the blackmail of UMNO and PAS who had threatened not just demonstrations but violence. Demonstration organisers talked openly about creating another May 13 in videos that went viral, raising needless alarm and concern.

Image result for mahathir's voltre-face

The mute Malaysian Women Libbers

That will only encourage them to come up again and again with gangster-style tactics of violence and bloodbath when every issue of importance is debated. Capitulation to them now over an important issue in Malaysian politics will only make them raise their voices higher and their threats more severe in future.

What was terribly surprising was the silence and muted response by Harapan leaders over an issue which had been twisted and turned by the opposition UMNO and PAS into a highly explosive racial and religious one.

Social redress

There was no attempt to explain that ratifying the ICERD was in no way against bumiputera rights but was aimed at endorsing universal principles against any form of racial discrimination. ICERD specifically excludes special privileges for any community as a means of social redress for as long as that is necessary.

There are some who say that the Federal Constitution sets no limit on special privileges, but even that is not an issue as Icerd can be ratified subject to the primacy of a country’s own constitution as the US did when it ratified Icerd in 1994.

These concerns are addressed and allayed comprehensively in this article by respected constitutional scholar Shad Saleem Faruqi who deals with all the major legal and constitutional issues over ratifying ICERD.

 

Here are the concluding remarks of his article: “ Even if ratified by the executive, Icerd cannot displace Article 3 (Islam) (of the constitution), Article 153 (special position of the Malays and natives) and Article 181 (prerogatives of Malay Rulers). This is due to the legal fact that our concept of ‘law’ is defined narrowly in ArticIe 160(2) and does not include international law.

“The constitutional position on the ICERD is, therefore, this: Even if the ICERD is ratified by the executive, it is not law unless incorporated into a parliamentary Act. Even if so legislated, it is subject to the supreme constitution’s Articles 3, 153 and 181. Unless these Articles are amended by a special two-thirds majority and the consent of the Conference of Rulers and the Governors of Sabah and Sarawak, the existing constitutional provisions remain in operation.

“The ICERD is not a law but only a pole star for action. Its ideals cannot invalidate national laws. The agitation against it is contrived for political purposes and perceptive Malaysians must not allow themselves to be exploited by politicians.”

Unfortunately, that is exactly what Harapan has done by capitulating to UMNO-PAS and others threats of violence over Icerd at a demonstration to be organised on Dec 8. Now that demonstration is going to be a celebration of their “success” – how pitiable.

Here is the Prime Minister’s Office’s statement on the matter: “The Pakatan Harapan government will not ratify CERD. “The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution, in which lies the social contract agreed to by representatives of all races during the forming of the nation.”

Narrow agenda

Image result for mahathir's voltre-face

A Janus-faced Malay Politician

“It was Mahathir, after all, who said point blank to the Malays that they should stop supporting UMNO because its leader was involved in the largest kleptocracy the world has known via 1MDB where RM42 billion was lost. Surely through proper information and education, most Malays can be made to realise that ratifying ICERD does not affect their rights or the rights of other bumiputeras.

But instead, the silence of Harapan leaders and their lack of defense of the reason why ICERD was to be ratified as part of the intentions voiced in their manifesto led to this issue systematically being used to whip up sentiment, spiralling up to the defence of Malay rights which it is not”.–Gunasegaram

That pathetic statement follows upon Mahathir’s volte-face over signing ICERD, saying the untruth that a constitutional amendment is needed to ratify the convention, and taking the easy way out instead of explaining to the Malays, who appear to be the only bumiputra group opposed to the ratification, what the real situation is.

It was Mahathir, after all, who said point blank to the Malays that they should stop supporting UMNO because its leader was involved in the largest kleptocracy the world has known via 1MDB where RM42 billion was lost. Surely through proper information and education, most Malays can be made to realise that ratifying ICERD does not affect their rights or the rights of other bumiputeras.

But instead, the silence of Harapan leaders and their lack of defense of the reason why ICERD was to be ratified as part of the intentions voiced in their manifesto led to this issue systematically being used to whip up sentiment, spiralling up to the defence of Malay rights which it is not.

And handing a victory on a platter to the gangster politics of UMNO, PAS and others who play up racial, religious and royalty sentiments and threaten violence, not in furtherance of Malay rights, but their own selfish, narrow agenda of capturing Malay votes and support.

It is more than a sorry state of affairs for it might lead to pressure on the entire Harapan reform agenda if a simple ratification of the ICERD can be turned into such a serious non-issue.


P GUNASEGARAM wonders how many more manifesto promises Harapan will break. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

Language, Civilisation, Politics, and Malay Chauvinists


November 1, 2018

Language, Civilisation, Politics, and Malay Chauvinists 

by Dr. Sharifah Munirah Alatas

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

Since 9/11, global scrutiny turned to contentious concepts such as terrorism, mono-polar, bipolar, superpower, economic and cultural imperialism, as well as linguistic colonialism.

It is the latter which is the subject of this commentary because it has stirred harsh, aggressive and sometimes, amusing reactions in the media (local, regional and global), as well as in Malaysia’s recent parliamentary sitting.

A few days ago, Parliament was entertained by the rantings of a particular opposition MP who claimed that English is not an intellectual language. Among the many incoherent sentences that were uttered, he cited examples of ancient civilisations and conquerors, attempting to rationalise that, “English is not an intellectual language that develops the mind and brain”. He also confidently pontificated that “modern economies like Japan, Taiwan and non-English speaking Europeans do not use English in their journey to become developed nations”.

I hope this issue commands the attention of most Malaysians because for a multi-cultural, multi-religious, economically-developing and relatively-peaceful nation, we need to separate the “wheat from the shaft”.

Image result for said orientalism

Linguistic colonialism or imperialism as a concept is a derivative of Edward Said’s conceptualisation of cultural imperialism (in his two famous books Culture and Imperialism, and Orientalism). I doubt, though, that the recent local uproar about the use of English as a medium of instruction of a few subjects in school is based on any knowledge of Edward Said’s work.

Nevertheless, anti-English language crusaders keep creeping out of the woodwork because it seems fashionable. It is glaring that all of these narratives to date have been devoid of historical context. And this makes for extremely wimpy analyses.

Image result for Hasan Arifin, BN’s MP for Rompin

UMNO Intellectuals

Hasan Arifin, BN’s MP for Rompin, is not alone. There are many in Malaysia, among the public, government and elite who feel that English is being “deified”. They also believe that English speakers never created great civilisations. Leaving aside that this notion is erroneous, it also begs the question, “what is a great civilisation?”

In my  understanding, a great civilisation is based on a network of cities (territories) comprising cultures that are defined by the economic, political, military, diplomatic, social and cultural interactions among them.

So, the Roman, Spanish, Arab, French, British and Chinese (with their various dynasties) were great civilisations. How did language then become the signature dish, so to speak, of that civilisation?

Through these empires, languages spread and shifted in dominance. In the past, empires spread their influence through their armies, and after the conquests, so began the social and linguistic assimilation. Between the 3 BC and 3 AD, the Roman Empire was bilingual — Latin and Greek. This was because the Romans knew that Greek was a language of prestige, philosophy and higher education — an “intellectual” language.

Spain succeeded in making over 20 sovereign states today, that speak Spanish, excluding millions of Spanish speakers in immigrant communities in other non-Spanish speaking nations such as the United States, Canada and the Philippines.

Castillian Spanish became the most important language of government and trade. It was the lingua franca of the Spanish empire, a derivative of Latin. Latin was still the “intellectual” language of the Spanish and of the Church.

The Chola Dynasty was one of the longest, most civilised empires in the history of southern India. Tamil and Sanskrit were the official languages.Tamil and Sanskrit are two distinct languages, the former being Dravidian and the latter being an Indo-Aryan language. As we can see, all three great civilisations were bi-lingual.

In 21st century Malaysia, however, we are faced with a backlash of a-historical pundits who reject the ebb and flow of civilisational change, yet advocate for national progress and development.

Let me educate them on the current position of English in the world today. First, it is an intellectual language. The British Empire, between the reigns of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II (1588-1952), had about 250 million English language speakers. English achieved unique conditions of development. The large continents of North America, Africa and Asia were colonised with industrialisation and trade in mind.

Global conditions at the time facilitated the transition towards the flourishing of English in previously French and Spanish colonial territories of North America and Africa. Due to abundant natural resources and human capital in these regions, the wheels of commerce and trade helped to “deify” (not my word) the English language. English was “at the right place, at the right time”.

Today, all civilisations are enriched by the ideas, thoughts and knowledge disseminated world wide in English. Of course there are other languages that perform this function, but English is predominant.

Second, people like Hasan Arifin and his supporters cannot distinguish between modernisation, Westernisation and imperialism.

Modernisation is the development and application of current and innovative science in the development process of all sectors of society. Westernisation is a process subsumed under modernisation when specifically-Western notions of what it means to be modern are accepted as universal values of modernisation.

Many aspects of Westernisation should not be accepted as modernisation. Imperialism, on the other hsnsd, is the process of domination of policies and ideas with a specific agenda in mind. In history, imperial powers have imposed power and influence through diplomacy or military force.

I think the current discourses in France and India of a “linguistic imperialism” are far-fetched.  Like Westernisation, there is good and bad imperialism. It is also era-specific.

In the 21st century, military and economic powers like the US, China, Great Britain, Japan, Germany and Russia do not mirror the same imperialistic goals of the World War Two era.

Anintellectual, would realise that the need to master the English language is hardly the imposition of an imperialistic agenda.

The inadequacy of the historical-context approach is dangerous for nation building. A system oiled by pseudo-intellectuals who run the policy-making machinery will be suicidal for our “new” Malaysia.

My advice is to be firmly grounded in historical processes, be up-to-date with current economic and socio-political trends and subdue ethnocentric tendencies which are embarrassing and underdeveloped.

Critics of the English language quote China and Japan as being ignorant of the English language, yet they challenge the US and other great powers economically and militarily. It takes more, however, to become a global hegemon.

Anti-English crusaders in Malaysia believe religiously that China and Japan, despite their incapacity to speak and write in English, have reached a level of global economic hierarchy that threatens US and other major power positions. However, even this notion is skewed.

China, for example is known as “the factory of the world” and “the bridge-builder of the world”. But China’s global hegemonic status is in doubt because it lacks the capacity for economic reform, to minimise economic inefficiencies and it has proven inadequate at reforming the financial sector in order to provide investors with consistently profitable returns (the failure of Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port construction is a case in point). Therefore, the issue of language does not figure in the equation.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.

 

Malay anxiety, exclusion, and national unity


September 21,2018

Malay anxiety, exclusion, and national unity

A fragmented Malay society is making ‘Malay unity’ more urgent for those defeated by GE-14.

Image result for Rais Yatim